Located in Fort Valley, the seat of Peach County, Fort Valley State University is one of Georgia’s three public historically Black colleges and universities. The school has served the African American population of the state for more than one hundred years and today is Georgia’s only 1890 land-grant school.
The college began as the Fort Valley High and Industrial School in 1895. John W. Davison, who attended Atlanta University (later Clark Atlanta University), became principal and guided the school through its first years. He secured from philanthropist Anna Jeanes a considerable donation for the school, one of the first contributions she would make to African American educational causes during her life. The school continued to struggle financially, however, and in 1904 the trustees hired Henry A. Hunt to place the school on a firm financial foundation.
Hunt envisioned a school modeled after the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and introduced training in the trades to the curriculum. Hunt’s ideas proved successful, and enrollment increased dramatically during his tenure (1904-38). In 1919 the school became affiliated with the American Church Institute for Negroes of the Protestant Episcopal Church, ensuring its financial well-being. Fort Valley continued to expand its curriculum in the 1920s. A post–high school year was added, followed in 1927 by a teacher training program. The college soon began offering courses in the liberal arts to prepare students who wished to go on to further academic study.
The college underwent a radical change in 1939, when it merged with another local institute, the State Teachers and Agricultural College of Forsyth, to become Fort Valley State College. The school also ended its affiliation with the Episcopal Church and became a member of the University System of Georgia as a four-year degree-granting institution. The Board of Regents approved the decision in part on the recommendation of Walter Cocking, a noted college administrator who had recently been hired at the University of Georgia.
Cocking also recommended to the Board of Regents that they appoint Horace Mann Bond as Fort Valley State’s first president. Born in 1904 to a college-educated African American minister, Bond showed intellectual potential at an early age. He graduated from Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University in 1923 at age eighteen and did graduate work at the University of Chicago. Bond’s career as both a historian of education and a college administrator was well underway when he accepted the presidency of Fort Valley State College in 1939. He was also the father of noted civil rights activist and Georgia politician Julian Bond.
Under Horace Mann Bond’s leadership, Fort Valley continued Hunt’s work by focusing on teacher training for rural Blacks. The school also grew substantially during Bond’s tenure (1939-45). The college’s income doubled during these years, and the state appropriation more than tripled, a remarkable feat given that Black colleges were not usually a funding priority for state educational leaders. In 1946, under President Cornelius V. Troup, Fort Valley began offering master’s degrees in education, home economics, and agriculture. In 1947 the Board of Regents, responding to a study that called for a reorganization of the missions of the system’s three historically Black colleges, designated Fort Valley the state’s 1890 Land-Grant College for Negroes, transferring the title from Georgia State College (later Savannah State University). Schools with that designation offered an abridged liberal arts curriculum and placed greater emphasis on teaching agricultural techniques and home economics skills to African American students.
In 1972 twenty-nine white parents from the Fort Valley area filed a lawsuit claiming that the college discriminated against whites in admissions and hiring practices. Although the lawsuit originated as a tactic to help ensure that white politicians maintained power in the region, Judge Wilbur Owens, who presided over the case, sympathized with the plaintiffs. In March 1973 Owens ordered the Board of Regents to submit a plan that would begin the desegregation of Fort Valley State College. White students did enroll in the college as a result of the lawsuit, but they never made up a significant percentage of the student body.
Also during the 1970s, Fort Valley worked with the University of Georgia (UGA) to create a new unit of UGA’s Cooperative Extension Service. The mission of the extension program is to offer agricultural and home economics education to the state’s rural population.
In 1996 the college received its final name change to Fort Valley State University. The school continues to educate residents of central Georgia. In fall 2005, 2,174 students enrolled at Fort Valley, and 1,992 of these were undergraduates. Ninety-four percent of the students are African American, with a six to four ratio of female to male students. Ninety-seven faculty members were employed full-time in 2005.
Fort Valley continues to focus on teacher education and to fulfill its mission as a land-grant institution. The school offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in education and supports the thriving College of Agriculture, Home Economics, and Allied Programs, which includes the Department of Veterinary Science, established in 1976. Famous alumni include state representative Calvin Smyre and professional football player Greg Lloyd.